Did you see him? Is he really there?
Rabbi Moshe Chagiz (Shtei HaLechem 46, early eighteenth century) writes “There is no doubt that Eliyahu the Prophet will come into every Jewish house to see the fulfillment of one commandment which is really two: Pesach and milah,” and he then goes to Heaven to advocate on behalf of the Jewish nation for the coming of the Final Redemption. Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the Nodeh B’Yehudah, used to “escort” Eliyahu down the steps of his house after the Seder, and the custom among Belz Chassidim is to accompany Eliyahu until the nearest shul. Certainly sounds like Eliyahu is there.
Then where is Eliyahu? How come I can’t see him? I am sure I am not alone in not seeing him. Opening the door for Eliyahu and welcoming him to the Seder is a custom that transcends geographical origins and level of observance. Everybody knows this one. What are we to make of, as one writer calls him, this perennial Passover no-show?
We don’t need to actually see Eliyahu. We need to understand his message of Judaism remaining relevant from one generation to the next.
When the Talmud poses a question which is not resolved, the conclusion is sometimes “teiku,” which stands for tishbi yetareitz kushyot v’abayot – We will only resolve the issue when Eliyahu the Tishbite provides an answer in messianic times. Why should we turn to Eliyahu in messianic times? Thanks to the promised resurrection of the dead, won’t there be other Jewish greats to ask – maybe Moshe or one of the Talmudic giants?
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that it is Eliyahu who remains more relevant than any other Jewish hero. Moshe died and went to the next world, never to be heard from since. Eliyahu ascended to heaven in a whirlwind. (II Kings 2:11) Eliyahu never died, and he remains “in touch” with us until today. He “attends” every bris ceremony, at which we give him a special chair. He makes an appearance on Saturday nights and is part of the traditional liturgy recited by many. And Eliyahu makes it to every Seder on Pesach. Eliyahu can answer the questions better than anyone else since he has maintained the greatest connection with Jews throughout history.
Eliyahu bridges the generation gap. Eliyahu represents the ability of Judaism to remain relevant from one generation to the next.
וְהֵשִׁ֤יב לֵב־אָבוֹת֙ עַל־בָּנִ֔ים וְלֵ֥ב בָּנִ֖ים עַל־אֲבוֹתָ֑ם
Eliyahu will reconcile parents with children and children with their parents…(Malachi 3:24)
Parents and children often see things differently and don’t speak the same language. We often witness the weakening of familial or traditional bonds from one generation to the next. Eliyahu reminds us – and encourages us – to bridge that gap.
Parents should understand that the next generation is being brought up in a vastly changed world with very different technological and social norms.
Children should appreciate the value of being the next chapter in a story that goes back thousands of years and assume responsibility for carrying the traditions forward.
When we open our doors for Eliyahu, we may not see him physically, but we encounter something far more meaningful: an approach to redeeming the Jewish present and ensuring the future.